by: Ilse Strauss
Thursday, 23 January 2020 | President Reuven Rivlin welcomed some 40 world leaders from around the globe to his residence in Jerusalem last night for a state dinner to kick off the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, which takes place today.
Addressing the presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and top officials who sat down to the gala banquet, Rivlin issued a clarion call to unite in the battle against an international rising tide of anti-Semitic violence: “I hope and pray that from this room, the message will go out to every country on earth, that the leaders of the world will stand united in the fight against racism, antisemitism and extremism.”
The forum, which starts at Yad Vahsem Holocaust memorial this afternoon, is entitled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism.” It commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz–Birkenau death camp in a reflection on the largest manifestation of hatred against the Jewish people in history to ensure that the horrors of the past are never repeated. With top dignitaries from 49 countries, including US Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Prince Charles from Britain and German President Frank Walter-Steinmeier in attendance, it is hailed as the largest-ever gathering focused on fighting anti-Semitism.
According to Rivlin, the event not only honors those who perished in the Holocaust and World War II, but also celebrates a “victory of freedom and human dignity.”
“This is a historic gathering,” he said, “not only for Israel and the Jewish people, but for all humanity.”
On a more critical note, the president called for an end to Holocaust distortion and revisionism, referencing the ongoing spat between Russia and Poland over the narrative of the genocide. “Historical research should be left to historians. The role of political leaders is to shape the future,” the president charged. “At a time when more and more survivors are leaving us, this gathering is an expression of our shared commitment, to pass on the historical facts and lessons of the Shoah [Holocaust], to the next generation.”
Over the past month, Putin has made controversial remarks claiming that Poland—which was under German military occupation during World War II—collaborated with Nazi Germany and should shoulder the blame for the atrocities committed during the war. Putin also accused the Polish government at the time of being anti-Semitic.
Putin is one of the world leaders chosen to speak at today’s forum, while Polish President Andrzej Duda is absent from both the guest list and list of speakers. Polish leaders earlier expressed their fear that Putin will use today’s forum as an opportunity for further slander and since Duda would not have the opportunity to respond publically, he opted to snub the event altogether.
Renowned historian and Holocaust historian, 95-year-old Yehuda Bauer took to the podium next with a harsh wake-up call to those considering anti-Semitism a Jewish-only problem. “A central Nazi motivation for the war was a hatred of Jews,” Bauer explained. “World war was a result.”
Some 35 million people perished in World War II, Bauer continued, only 5.6 to 5.7 million of them Jewish. “Some 29 million were non-Jews from Europe and North America, who died in large part because of the hatred of Jews.
“Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish illness, but a non-Jewish one,” Bauer challenged. “It is a cancer that kills and destroys your nations and your societies and your countries. So there are, my friends, 29 million reasons for you to fight anti-Semitism. Not because of the Jews, but to protect your societies from a deadly cancer. Don’t you think that 29 million reasons are enough?”
Spain’s King Felipe VI addressed the gathering of presidents, premiers and royals on behalf of the world leaders in attendance. He began his address by quoting well-known 12th-century Jewish philosopher and Torah (Gen.–Deut.) scholar Moses Maimonides, also known as the Rambam. “All evils originate from ignorance,” Felipe said. The greatest ignorance, the Spanish monarch continued, was not knowing that all human beings are created equal.
Felipe also highlighted the importance of remembering past atrocities to prevent repeating them in future. “Forgetting the Shoah would not only dishonor the memory of millions of victims, but would also be extremely dangerous. Remembrance alone is unfortunately not enough…barbarism can grow when least expected. We are never fully safe from it, and in different degrees, we still see it today hitting hard in different parts of our world,” he said.
Bemoaning the rising tide of anti-Semitism in various nations, King Felipe stressed that the said world leaders had flocked to Jerusalem to both honor those who survived the Holocaust and to guarantee their support to prevent such atrocities in future.
“We are also here—perhaps primarily—to show our unyielding commitment in bringing all the necessary efforts of our respective countries in order to fight the ignorant intolerance, hatred, and the total lack of human empathy that permitted and gave birth to the Holocaust,” he said.
“Never again,” the Spanish king vowed in English and then in Hebrew: “Le’olam lo od.”
This afternoon, 48 more prime ministers, kings, crown princes and top officials from Austria to Australia, the US to Ukraine and multiple countries in between will stand alongside the king of Spain, Israeli dignitaries and Holocaust survivors to echo the pledge: Never again.
Posted on January 23, 2020
Source: (Bridges for Peace, January 23, 2020)
Photo Credit: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/flickr.com
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